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Arkansas trade director opens new relationship with South Africa

Denise Thomas (middle) sits on the Governor's Panel at the Africa Business Summit.

Denise Thomas, director of Africa and Middle East Trade for the World Trade Center Arkansas has taken steps to open a new relationship between South Africa and the World Trade Center Arkansas.

While at the Corporate Council on Africa’s Africa Business Summit in June, Thomas met the Minister of Small Business Development for South Africa, Lindiwe Zulu. Like Thomas, Zulu was a fellow speaker at the summit and gave a speech on South Africa business opportunities. Thomas also met with Malose Letsoalo, the economy minister at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. and L. Mchunu, the chief of staff of the Department of Small Business Development.

Denise Thomas (left) and Minister Lindiwe Zulu (right).

“Our two countries continue to enjoy growing, diversified and mutually beneficial relations,” Zulu said. “The United States was the third largest trade partner for South Africa.”

Zulu’s speech outlined a robust plan for economic development in South Africa where the government has instituted the Industrial Policy Action Plan. They are prioritizing investment in advanced manufacturing, agro-processing, automotive parts and components, chemicals and business process outsourcing – sectors in which Arkansas has shown considerable strength.

The South African government is also attempting to revitalize agriculture and the agro-processing value chain. Through their National Development Plan, they wish to unlock the potential of SMMEs, cooperatives, townships and rural enterprises. Zulu’s ministry also has developed what she calls a “conducive economic ecosystem” which has helped them harness the innovation and the start-up culture for emerging enterprises.

“As South Africa has developed such a strong plan to encourage the development of small businesses and startups, Arkansas stands to benefit tremendously from a relationship with them,” Thomas said. “Our goals now are to find ways to grow bilateral trade and exchange between.”

Thomas and Zulu have agreed to identify trading partners in South Africa and Arkansas to plan a future trade mission. They have already found a potential connection in small businesses that produce holistic medicine and would like to explore educational exchange and development opportunities for women owned enterprises.

The mission of the World Trade Center Arkansas is to grow trade and increase Arkansas exports by connecting Arkansas businesses to the world through international trade services. For more information and valuable updates, please follow the Center on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to the World Trade Center Arkansas newsletter.